Healthy ageing isn’t something you start when you retire, says Lauretta Stace. The foundations for fit and active senior years need to be built throughout life.
Healthy ageing doesn’t mean waiting until retirement to start exercising and living a healthy lifestyle. On the contrary, according to former president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), professor Kerryn Phelps, we need to lead healthier lifestyles throughout our lives.
Given the rise of chronic conditions among an ageing population, Fitness Australia recognises the importance of helping all Australians maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle.
Delivering the keynote address at Fitness Australia’s Industry Forum, held in Sydney in November, Phelps discussed chronic disease prevention, overcoming barriers to healthy ageing and the essential role of fitness in healthy ageing, and highlighted the fact that ‘health means more than the absence of a diagnosis’.
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality1 and accounts for an estimated $719 million2 of avoidable healthcare costs in Australia each year.
By 2050, real health spending on those aged over 65 years is expected to increase around seven-fold in Australia, and for those over 85 years, a 12-fold3 increase is predicted. An ageing population means more people depending on the aged care and health system.
We know that two-thirds of Australians are not undertaking sufficient physical activity to incur health benefits4 and the number of people aged 85 and over is expected to more than quadruple to 1.8 million by 20505. These facts combine to create a metaphorical timebomb, and we need to act now to diffuse it. It is critical that the fitness industry takes a lead in helping Australians stay fit and healthy.
Currently, the over 55’s age group represents only a small percentage of fitness industry participants, yet research indicates this will be the dominant age group in coming years. An expert independent economic modelling study6, found that an increase in fitness centre participation of just 3 per cent of the adult population would potentially deliver health care savings in the order of $204.8 million.
Being healthy as you grow older doesn’t have to be hard: indeed, exercise professionals can offer a range of safe programs to suit a person’s specific needs. But the reality is that fitness businesses and health professionals must start making the connection if we are to meet the health challenges facing our population. The fitness industry is ideally placed to overcome the barriers to healthy ageing, such as the negative perceptions of exercise, non-age-friendly environments, accessibility and motivation.
How can we make an impact?
Fitness businesses need to continue building better linkages with health professionals, so that they are more confident in directing their patients to quality providers of structured physical activity.
As professionals we need to:
- Connect with and learn about our local ageing community
- Actively build relationships with local health providers
- Build a friendly and engaging culture that embraces older people
- Educate ourselves about the specific needs of older adults
- Deliver an appropriate evidence-based and nationally approved program for older adults such as ‘Lift for Life’.
By taking practical steps today to overhaul the broader population’s relationship with physical activity, we can make a real difference to the future health of our country.
For more information on how you can help create a healthier future, visit www.fitness.org.au/healthyageing
Lauretta is a leading advocate for the health and fitness industry in Australia. Since becoming the CEO of Fitness Australia in 2006, she has embarked upon a systematic and strategic journey to raise the profile of the fitness industry, help integrate it within the health sector and ensure that it is recognised for its important role in helping millions of people improve their health and